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Six volumes into Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s tour through the complete Haydn Piano Sonatas, listeners will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Neither Bavouzet nor his instrument (a contemporary Yamaha concert grand) are particularly interested in authenticity. Instead you get a witty, urbane, slightly French-accented take on repertoire that has long cried out for a contemporary champion. This is Haydn for, and of, a new generation.
Wisely ignoring chronology, each volume is a musical lucky dip, throwing together a diverse grouping of works. Volume Six is built around the spacious Sonata in B Flat Major, No 11. Gone is the limpid Bavouzet of his Debussy recordings, and in its place an assertive, rhetorical voice whose lines emerge with such clarity that the effect is of a piano reduction of a comic operatic ensemble.
The more sedate E Flat Major Sonata No 43 feels, by contrast, rather anonymous, despite Bavouzet’s frisky ornaments. This gives way with calculated shock to the expansive grace of the central Minuet and Trio. Bavouzet makes his slow movements sing in silky tone and legatos, but it’s the livelier, comic movements where he really comes into his own. I defy anyone to listen to the irrepressible final Rondo from the Sonata in A Flat Major No 35, or the slinky, near-jazz of the C Major Sonata’s first movement Allegro and not find themselves grinning with delight at such irreverent, instinctive musicianship.